Upholding the Right Torch

Democrats, desperate to retain control of the Senate, apparently saw to it that New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli's political torch was finally snuffed out.

The Senate ethics committee, which found Senator Torricelli had improperly taken gifts from a constituent, helped force the issue. A judge ordered the findings released, and, to his credit, Torricelli made the decision (and by some reports, mostly on his own) to take his name off the ballot as the Democratic candidate – despite poor timing, and in spite of his reputation as a tenacious politician.

Sadly, the more decisive factor was the possibility of the Democrats losing their one-seat control of the Senate to the GOP.

The good news in all this is that the people of New Jersey, albeit just a month before the election, showed in their answers to pollsters that they were dissatisfied with the senator's unethical behavior. In fact, little money and effort was put into the race early on by either party, with both thinking Torricelli would be a shoo-in for reelection, despite their knowledge of an ethics breach.

Torricelli's decision, of course, should have come long ago, but, like the latest band of castaways on "Survivor," politics entails using any means necessary to stay in power, including deception, manipulation, and the like. And those behaviors can be found across the political spectrum.

Take for example, partisan infighting over defining the rules for the new campaign-finance laws by a split Democratic/Republican Federal Elections Commission. Or the often nasty politics of legislative redistricting. Or the foot-dragging in Congress on voting reform. In each, tactics can be found that put party above the good of the country.

Unfortunately, the extreme politics used by Democrats and Republicans reflect a sharply politically divided nation. That need not be so. Voters, and political leaders, sobered by 9/11, are continuing to connect corporate fraud scandals to their own wallets. They can use some of their newfound seriousness to focus on national goals and help hold politicians, and themselves, accountable.

Meanwhile, New Jersey voters need to hold the Democrats accountable for leaving Torricelli on the ballot this long. If his name stays, or another one is put on, the party can't duck its responsibility.

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